Using Framework 16 laptop shell/parts as display/keyboard/mouse for another computer (without mainboard)

One odd thing I’ve been interested in for a while is the idea of having an empty shell of a laptop as an interface for another computer. The idea is that I could have a desktop computer but use it like a laptop on a couch. I grew up using laptops, and I prefer the laptop interface as I find it more dynamic even if I can only use it in one general area, like changing my position on the couch, sitting in a different spot in the area, and the mobility of the monitor to show other people things.

It also has some more tangible benefits over both a traditional desktop setup and a laptop: (1) It would reduce the permanent space footprint of a desktop computer in a room to just the desktop itself (as a desk would not be required, and I don’t have space for a desk where I want to use my computer), (2) It would be more powerful than a laptop, and (3) it would reduce the heat around me by not having the heat generating components so close to me like a laptop does. The third point is interesting even if I just have a gaming laptop, as it would let me put my computer to the side and stay cool.

I have thought about making this before, but I thought it would be too flimsy and janky if I were to make it myself. But the Framework 16 chassis has given me hope, as everything is already in the right style of interface. IIRC, the laptop deck uses USB 2.0 to talk to the computer, hypothetically giving me trackpad and keyboard. And, unless Framework did something strange for the Framework 16, their panels are supported by existing monitor control panels.

I’m wondering how difficult it would be to take the chassis without a mainboard and rig it to have the deck be internally converted to USB and potentially fit in an LCD control panel.

You can order a very light FW16 and use a powerful workstation to do the work. There are few project that might be interesting to look at, like this one:

The thing is I don’t want it to be remote controlled computer by computer on my lap, I want a direct connection. I have a couple of reasons for this.

First, I don’t fully trust the stability of my network for the basic operation of my computer. I’ve tried remote systems before and they seem to be too laggy or unstable to rely on for anything precise. It would be annoying if the remote connection were lost and I had to go to where the computer actually is (which would require a desk somewhere) to re-enable it or debug it while I was trying to work or playing a multiplayer game. I believe in direct connections for basic computer operations.

Second, the laptop would still produce a fairly significant amount of heat directly on me. Even if it is significantly less heat than a gaming laptop, it would still require a fan. Something I forgot to mention is that I have cats and they like to hang out around me, so I am hoping for a setup where I don’t have a fan where cat hair can get caught. So I would want a system with basically no computation happening on me.

I believe there is someone on the forum working on turning the FW13 into this sort of hub device, so it should be possible with the 16

1 Like

While the keyboard is usb 2.0 (and also anything on the top / keyboard half), the touchpad does not seem to be. Nrp said it’s a different interface. I suspect it’s i2c. We may find out for sure when they do the “connectors” Deep Dive blog post or the Keyboard Deep Dive.

1 Like

I don’t know much about internal laptop connectors, but it looks like you can buy i2c to USB converters. No idea if they work, but if they do it shouldn’t be a big problem.

The basic USB to i2c interface boards you’ll see when searching won’t work as is, I’m afraid.
The touchpad i2c data would need to be converted into usable pointer movement. And there isn’t a universal solution for this that just works for any touchpad. Basic USB to i2c interface boards only present raw data.

That’s a shame. Fortunately, I don’t really like touchpads, so I probably wouldn’t care. I might attach a small drawing tablet there instead.